The global stash of gold held in exchange-traded funds (ETFs) has hit the highest level in seven years as the spread of the Wuhan coronavirus spurs investors to beef up holdings of haven assets, and the addition of just a few more tonnes would lift the total to a record.
The influx follows four straight years of inflows into bullion-backed ETFs, and comes as prices trade near the highest since 2013.
The number of confirmed virus cases in China has soared to overtake the official number of infections during the Sars epidemic, and at least 132 people have died.
Gold has risen this year as the outbreak of the deadly virus, which began in the city of Wuhan, threatens to hurt the world economy, prompting volatile equity trading amid swings in investing sentiment.
The traditional haven has also been in favour as the United States Federal Reserve has signalled that interest rates are likely to remain low for some time.
Worldwide gold holdings in ETFs rose to 2,561.2 tonnes as of Tuesday, the highest level since January 2013, according to data complied by Bloomberg.
They peaked at 2,572.8 tonnes in December 2012.
"If the virus were to be contained, then we might see some pullback in ETF holdings, but certainly no collapse," said economist John Sharma at National Australia Bank.
Low rates, geopolitical issues and possible trade tensions will persist, supporting demand for gold, he said in an e-mail.
Fed policymakers were set to hand down their latest decision on policy later yesterday after the first meeting of this year.
While it is all but certain rates will be kept steady, Fed chairman Jerome Powell will likely face questions about asset purchases, as well as the potential fallout from the deadly virus.
The spot price was at US$1,569.31 an ounce yesterday, up 3.4 per cent this month, after an 18 per cent jump last year that was the biggest annual gain since 2010.